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A caucus of one: After defiant budget vote, Rep. Lora Reinbold goes rogue

  • Author: Pat Forgey
  • Updated: September 28, 2016
  • Published March 27, 2015

JUNEAU -- Republican Eagle River Rep. Lora Reinbold has dominated the news cycle with her symbolic, caucus-busting vote against a state operating budget she considers bloated.

"It's a budget that simply does not reflect the crisis at hand," she explained later.

But refusing to vote for the budget adopted by the Republican-led majority caucus got Reinbold booted from the caucus. That's left her the only one of 60 legislators not a member of the tightly organized majority and minority caucus system through which the body is structured.

So now Reinbold is trying the use the spotlight that her actions have attracted to push for the things she said she wasn't able to accomplish within the caucus.

Long a passionate opponent of Common Core, the new educational standards that tea party groups have seized on as evidence of more governmental intrusion into people's lives, Reinbold said she is going to be active there.

"I will continue toward grass roots education reform," she said.

A first public appearance after her controversial budget vote was at a symposium put on by Common Core opponents in Sitka. Reinbold has promised to speak at any gathering of more than 25 people.

In Sitka, she said, the newly prominent Reinbold found 100 people show up to hear her concerns about Common Core and the threat it poses to family privacy.

"I'm going to do everything I can to root out Common Core in this state," she said.

Another such symposium is scheduled for Anchorage on Saturday at Tudor Bingo Center at 1436 E. Tudor Road, she said.

That symposium will be held from 10 a.m. to noon and will include presentations led by volunteers. Reinbold said she's paying for her own travel from Juneau for the event, as she did with the Sitka symposium.

But while Reinbold is advocating for issues such as her Common Core concerns, she's doing it from outside the power of the caucus. Getting booted from the majority caucus meant she lost her right to committee assignments, including her position as vice chair of the House Education Committee and co-chair of the Joint Armed Services Committee.

House Speaker Mike Chenault, R-Nikiski, leader of the majority in the House, said he's getting pressure from the public to reinstate Reinbold's committee assignments, but that's not going to happen.

"All I can say is, she knew what she was doing, she knew what the rules were, and chose to go the way she did. There are consequences," he said.

Chenault said that while he personally likes Reinbold, he doesn't appreciate the action she took after having agreed to support the budget when she joined the caucus.

"It caused disruption to my caucus, to my members," Chenault said.

Reinbold retains her seat on a single committee, the low-profile Community and Regional Affairs Committee, even though House rules don't guarantee any committee seats at all for those outside caucuses.

House rules provide for allocation of committee seats based on caucus numbers, but crucially for Reinbold, fractional amounts are rounded down. That means a caucus of one, which is what Chenault said Reinbold would be considered, doesn't qualify at all. But Chenault said he thinks Reinbold should keep one committee assignment even if it is not required.

"I think it is important that all members have at least one committee assignment," he said. That's a personal belief, but not part of House rules, he said.

Even without being an official committee member, Reinbold can also attend meetings meetings on an informal basis. On Thursday, she sat in on an informal "Lunch & Learn" presentation for legislators and the public by legislative finance director David Teal.

One of Reinbold's philosophical allies in the House, Rep. Lynn Gattis, said Reinbold's personality will enable her to be effective even outside an organized caucus.

"Rep. Reinbold is a vivacious, nice person," said Gattis, a Wasilla Republican. "I don't think anybody's going to turn her away. She has that kind of personality."

Since her ouster from the caucus, Reinbold has filed legislation to protect the Constitutional Budget Reserve by amending the Alaska Constitution to limit withdrawals from the $10 billion fund to 10 percent per year.

"I personally believe we need to protect our savings right now because it looks like this fiscal crisis is going to linger and we want to be able to provide good sound services for our people," she said.

She said she'll work across party lines as she has done in the past to pass legislation. That may even be easier outside a caucus, she said.

"I think it's about relationships down here in Juneau, it's critical to have good relationships, and I have good relationships across party lines," she said.

Those cross-party relationships may not help in the fight against Common Core, but they may help in the fight to protect the Constitutional Budget Reserve, which many Democrats also want to save.

But Gattis said that given Reinbold's core beliefs, she doubts her fellow conservative will change much inside or outside the majority caucus.

"I anticipate that we'll be voting together on the same things that we always did," she said.

Reinbold said she is confident her own Republican Party leaders will eventually come around to agree with her on budgets.

When Reinbold lost her committee assignments and caucus role, she lost three of her four staff members.

"I've learned that House leadership can cut budgets by almost 75 percent within hours if you make them mad," she said.

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